A new social role is emerging, that of "urban shaman," or "ritualist,"
-- i.e., someone who organizes rituals for various occasions. Some
drama therapists and psychodramatists might also want to consider
assuming this role. Some specific techniques are described,
understanding, of course, that they serve only as general guidelines,
requiring creative adaptation to the uniqueness of each situation.
In the last few decades, the idea has emerged not only of making many
traditional ceremonies more relevant and involving, but also of
creating "new" rituals for many occasions generally overlooked, as
noted in a number of books mentioned in the references at the end of
this paper. It occurred to me that psychodramatists and drama
therapists could also use the principles they've acquired in their work
to take on this new social role as a facilitator of celebrations and
rituals of all kinds truly a "master of ceremonies" (to be abbreviated
as 'MC'). Psychodramatists (this term, reflecting my own background,
should also be viewed as including drama therapists) develop skills
such as awareness of group dynamics, development of the MC's own
spontaneity, and interest in heightening the sense of personal meaning
for the participants.
Moreno's ideal of "sociatry" implies also the idea of helping people to
use psychodramatic methods in everyday life (Blatner, 1985a). An
extension of this would thus be the application of Morenian principles
in bringing more creativity and inclusiveness to weddings, funerals,
and other ceremonies (Blatner, 1985). The MC as I would envision it is
more than merely a toastmaster or an experienced public speaker. Part
of the role is that of helping to design the ritual, keeping in mind
the needs for involvement of as many key people as possible, and the
hunger for feelings of deeper meanings. These issues would require some
interviewing of the key participants, almost like a psychotherapist,
and a drawing out of the significance of various themes and symbols.
As it presently stands, in our fragmented culture, people who attend
weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage frequently find
themselves feeling deeply dissatisfied, as if the ceremony had been
imposed by the officiant and didn't really speak to the uniqueness of
the people involved or the individuality or peculiarities of those
supporting and attending the process. Officiants, often members of the
clergy, seem bound to the cultural conserves of books, using formulas
that apply only in the most general ways, like books you can buy about
"letter-writing for all occasions."
In contrast, the MC, in planning a wedding or some other ritual, could
meet in advance with the key participants and help them as a ritual
designer, bringing together a sense of drama, the potentials of surplus
reality, a sensitivity to sociometry and group dynamics, and similar
skills to formulate a ceremony that would be most meaningful to the key
players and optimally inclusive of the feelings of most of those
In this time of cultural transition, when many of the older generation
still cling to traditional forms, creativity is required to balance
respect for this need for structure and another need for a feeling of
relevance and maximal inclusiveness. One idea is to conduct a kind of
preliminary sociodrama, an experimental group process with a number of
the key players, talking about the issues involved, brainstorming and
improvising, keeping certain elements, letting go of others that are
less successful, overly distracting, or too easily misunderstood. This
is an extension of an early rehearsal session in a dramatic production
in which staging and characterization are still being worked out.
Celebrations refer to those many role transitions in our lives
that generally evoke the validation of our social networks: birthdays,
weddings, confirmations, anniversaries, graduations, and so forth.
Serious issues may be included, because the goal is not so much
frivolity as the experiencing of the transition more meaningfully.
Thus, welcoming a newborn infant at a christening or saying goodbye to
a deceased relative at a funeral are kinds of celebrations in this
"To celebrate is to contemplate
the singularity of the moment and to enhance the singularity of the
self. What was shall not be again. The man of our time is losing the
power of celebration. Instead of celebrating, he seeks to be amused or
entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing
reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is
to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or spectacle.
Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent
meaning of one's
--Abraham Joshua Heschel
A number of principles derived from the field of drama can be applied
to helping the many special events of our lives to be more involving
and meaningful. Techniques that dramatize an event render it more vivid
and "bigger than life." When it is done as a collective activity, those
occasions attain a degree of social communion, because the participants
share unconscious as well as conscious mythic images and aspirations.
The use of dramatic methods involves our capacity for using metaphor to
evoke emotions, and metaphor in turn draws on the potentials of
aesthetics and emotional sensitivity that reflect the functioning of
the right side of the brain. These are harmonized with our intellectual
belief systems, and the resulting experience thereby is more holistic.
The use of improvisational approaches adds the vitalizing experience of
spontaneity and creativity, which for the participant puts the stamp of
individuality upon these collective activities (Blatner, 2000).
In considering the "art" of making the various celebrations of your
life more meaningful and enjoyable, remember that you become the
producer, choreographer, and set-designer of those events. Those
activities came naturally to you when you were a child, for when you
were at play in those early years, you un-self-consciously embodied
those roles, as well as functioning as an off-the-cuff playwright,
director, sound-effects technician, and musician. Those dimensions
continue to be at your disposal as you begin to co-create the kinds of
ceremonies and celebrations you want.
Making Occasions More Vivid
To warm up,
remember the various ceremonies that you have encountered. Think about
some of the weddings, graduations, or memorial services that you have
attended, and you might find several elements that you would change if
you could have been the master of those ceremonies. What could have
involved the major participants and the guests more fully? As you muse
on those images, the following general principles can be helpful in
planning future events:
Shift the pacing.
Build in times for quiet and meditative experiences, and other times
when there are opportunities for vigorous activity and excitement.
These can be influenced by the choice of certain kinds of songs or
music. For example, in the funerals of the black community in New
Orleans, there was a time when hired bands played dirges on the way to
the cemetery and exciting jazz spirituals on the way back.
Similarly, let there be times for informal
interactions as well as more formal activities. A certain amount
of structure makes people more comfortable, but not too much, or it
seems artificial. During the informal periods, make it easy to move
about freely so that participants can make contact with others. You can
shift the pace also by mixing activities that are collective in nature
with other activities that involve only one or a few individuals, the
rest of the group becoming the audience. Activities in which
participants do something alone or in pairs also helps create some
personal involvement. The collective activities increase the sense of
camaraderie and group cohesion, while the individual activities allow
for personal modifications of the experience.
Participants. It's also nice in this regard to set things up so
that everyone in the group can have an opportunity to be seen and heard
by the others, so that their presence is validated. Thus, explicitly
acknowledge if people helped with preparations, made a special gift, or
came a long distance in order to attend. Indeed, some celebrations
become more meaningful by utilizing this theme of participation. For
example, you could put on the invitation to a special event a request
that those who attend bring something to share-- a poem, dance, story,
relevant thought, a "toast," a song, or some food. Imaginative gifts
sometimes add to the occasion, but more often the ordinary kind of
gift-giving distracts from making the event a true celebration.
Receptivity. Help the participants in a celebration to savor the
experience by orchestrating the variables of time, space, and ambience.
Allow the pacing of the event to be leisurely and the lighting or
setting to be such that the sensations can have time to register in
consciousness as deeply as possible. Consider the over-all experience
of the ideal picnic or the most romantic or elegant dinner party.
Although there should be very relaxed times, a period of vigorous,
excited, co-operative preparation often helps the later quiet moments
to happen with more of a sense of contrast.
In a way, all engrossing activities and celebrations involve a certain
amount of mild group hypnosis. Use this process on purpose by
structuring the elements of the occasion so that the participants begin
to focus their attention on the deeper meanings for themselves and for
the others. For example, having the group stand in a circle holding
hands helps to promote an awareness that everyone is together in that
present moment, and together they all are especially aware of whatever
is at the center of the circle--the set table, the couple who are
getting married, or whatever. Use music, singing, or even dancing or
moving to a simple step to enhance this unification of attention.
The wording you use for parts of the ceremony may be thought out ahead
of time, and designed to maximize everyone's feeling alert and
receptive to the emotional significance of the event. An invocation
mixes the principles of hypnosis and drama. The pacing of speech, tone
of voice, and choice of words are such that they will effectively evoke
the images, memories, and ideas that are most appropriate for the
experience. People's inner lives tend to create elaborations and
connections under such conditions, and this increases their sense of
being personally involved.
The master of ceremonies or participants may be called on to make a
speech at certain points in the course of events. Using principles of
invocation, what they say could be planned so that it creates a frame
of reference for appreciating the symbolism of the ensuing activities.
For example, a couple at a wedding might plan to include their special
fondness for candle-light and wine in their ceremony. Perhaps one might
light some candles and announce, "Thus do we kindle the light in our
hearts, and may the light illuminate our minds so that our mutual
understanding grows." Later on, continuing in the spirit of ritual
forms of speech, they may toast each other, saying, "May this champagne
remind us of the intoxication of love, hope, and good fellowship."
Another useful guideline is to allow the wording of invocations to
highlight the uniqueness of the event. For example, "This is the third
Christmas we've shared with little Kim, who was brought into our
family, to be a part of us." At family reunions, acknowledge the
honored guests: "It's especially nice to have Bob's parent here, and to
have the grandchildren get to know them better." (Such forms of
explicit speaking also help the children present to experience the
event more vividly.) Most occasions have some features that can be
emphasized in this fashion.
An extension of the principle of making invocations is the idea of
having participants say things directly. If you express things out
loud, your feelings tend to be more vividly fixed in your memory. Some
specific themes include:
-- Express appreciation and thanksgiving to God, to the group,
to individuals, for whatever you can think of;
-- Contemplate beauty of the natural surroundings, the radiant
faces of the participants, the works of art, etc.;
-- Call attention to the significance of any symbols or symbolic
actions. Note, for example, that a piece of clothing or a special
object might have belonged to an ancestor. Mention that the music
that was chosen was a favorite piece of one of the people who are
present (or present only in spirit).
-- Acknowledge individual contributions, as mentioned before.
-- Sing songs with a message.
-- Make affirmations of positive expectations and intentions,
phrasing the words almost like a prayer, because this helps to
emphasize the emotional and spiritual significance. For example,
near the closing of a celebration, one might say, "May we remember the
caring and warmth we share now in future times when we may feel
separate; and may we remember that we can participate again and be
welcomed again, just as we are together now."
-- Add actions to the words, such as in lifting the ritual
objects, or having someone dance or portray something being described.
-- Consider including the acknowledgment of negative feelings or
temptations that might exist. "It was not easy to come here in this
weather." "Our joy is tempered by the sadness of having lost Jill's
mother a month ago; we wish she could be here for this." It's helpful
to mention explicitly the possible fears, weaknesses, confusions, or
distractions associated with an event. Clarifying what is
unspoken eases the awkwardness of having to avoid the
obvious. The sense of reconciliation at a celebration
becomes more real when we can admit that the whole of our
natures--the negative as well as positive qualities--are present.
There is at-one-ment in atonement, and affirming the willingness
to bring openness and caring to the experience helps strengthen the
fragility of human relationships.
-- And finally, sprinkle in phrases that refer to the
process of opening oneself to love, faith, and responsibility whenever
possible. These values draw out the best from the consciousness of a
Such affirmations can be woven into your orchestration of a celebration
or ceremony. They can evoke the feelings that need to be experienced
more vividly, and these are feelings that tend to bring healing to
Build in to your plans some opportunities for spontaneity, also. This
includes the theme of humor. Things can get too "heavy" is people are
led to take themselves too seriously (Blatner & Blatner, 1997).
This phenomenon is recognized and dealt with in many cultures by
including some roles for people who are permitted to be silly,
provocative, or irreverent. These special "clown" or "fool" roles keep
a counter theme of lightness happening even during important rites of
passage or religious rituals. Sometimes the master of ceremonies is
granted the right to joke with the participants, while in other
cultures the musicians have this privilege and responsibility. Such
activities need not be disruptive to the seriousness or purposes of
Other Forms of Celebration
The key point is that you begin to think in terms of creating
celebrations, designing them with elements of improvisation and
elements of drama. These may be informal experiences in a family
setting or theme-oriented events for larger groups. Regarding the
former, be aware that families naturally generate little traditions
over time. Help that to happen with some spontaneity and some design.
For example, invite your family to help plan to make the next few
holidays more meaningful. Consider together how you might change some
of the traditional elements, or perhaps even strengthen them. People
might bring forth songs or poems that seem appropriate; drawings, no
matter how simple, or decorations that reflect the spirit of
preparation can also be a way of increasing involvement. Avoid
things that are unduly expensive in terms of time, effort, or money,
for this tends to leave a residue of discomfort.
In an even more simplified form, bring the mindfulness of playful
ritual to such activities as eating or walking together. Do some things
in silence or with the eyes closed once in a while. Move slowly and
experience the subtle sounds of nature and the feelings in the body.
You can create new celebrations, or add dimensions to the ones you
already enjoy. For instance, many cultures have celebrations around the
main changes of the seasons (Henes, 1996). If you were to create an
event that corresponded to the season, you could improvise regarding
what a season might mean to your circle of friends. Here are some
Spring ceremonies reflect the new beginnings that are occurring in
Summer events honor the fullness of everyone's talents, their forms of
productivity, and the excitement of their interests. Participants are
invited to prepare and bring something to a "show and tell." It's a
nice way for a social network to express their individuality.
Autumn celebrations are an opportunity for friends and families to
review their "harvest" of the year. It may be a time for thanksgiving,
and the group members may define for themselves what they want to
acknowledge. It's a time for mellowness and thoughtfulness, in the
sense of musing and reflection.
Mid-winter is a good time to share fellowship. On the coldest days,
there is a kind of mercy in a group abiding with each other in a spirit
of friendship and festivity.
Celebration and Spontaneity
There is a curious paradox in that a lack of structure actually
inhibits spontaneity. This is because when people are faced with
ambiguity, they feel a bit overwhelmed by the implicit requirement that
they define themselves by their actions. This is simply too much of a
responsibility, and the tendency is to resort to stereotyped forms of
"game-playing." This is what accounts for the varieties of
one-upsmanship and the feeling of phoniness at many cocktail parties or
receptions. On the other hand, if some of the activities and
role-behaviors in a social setting are
prescribed, then the participants will naturally discover for
themselves how they can bring personal style and self-expression to
their participation. Thus, a relatively narrow range of freedom becomes
an attractive channel for improvisation.
The devices of feasting, intoxication, traditional games, songs, and
dances, flirtations, exchanging gifts, wearing costumes or finery, and
religious ritual are to some extent ways of breaking out of the
ordinary roles and preoccupations of everyday existence. Much of
our socioeconomic involvement can be boring, humdrum, and/or
excessively demanding and stressful. On the other hand, playful roles
allow people to find a comfortable level of involvement, because of its
essentially voluntary nature.
Activities that include the element of play help the participants to
transcend the security- oriented ego concerns which are associated with
the complex family and occupational roles of everyday life. For
example, a man in a fraternal organizational costume finds role relief
in engaging in this activity. Fred Flintstone becomes the Grand
Pooh-Bah or whatever is his title, and he's free to frolic in that
exalted role. There is a bit of ecstasy in this, if one considers that
the Latin root of the word ecstasy means to stand outside of oneself.
One shifts away from the ordinary ego perspective, and such playful
activities can reduce the tendency of people to become overly
identified with their own egos.
In summary, think of applying
the principles mentioned here to the process of creating more exciting
celebrations and ceremonies. The many rites of passage in our culture
can thus be helped to become more meaningful and vitalizing.
Psychodramatists can utilize the range of their skills to apply
Morenian principles in this as-yet relatively untapped and unformed
"In the time of your life,
live--so that in that good time there
shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life
touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out
of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter
and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that
hold death and must pass away. In the time of your life, live--so that
in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the
world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of
--William Saroyan, The Time of Your Life
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